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David Mallett - Artist In Me

Artist In Me

David Mallett

NR CD71603

North Road Records
Sebec, ME, USA

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Guntram Gudowius

With his 2003 release "Artist In Me" David invites you to another "family reunion" to his small town in rural Maine. If you take him up on it, you'll get to hear stories about town folks and places, self questioning songs about traveling and detailed looks at the "good old days" intermingled with social and environmental criticism.

I first was introduced to David's music in 1981 and was struck by his descriptive poetry, understated but fitting musical arrangements and a voice that gave me goose bumps. His voice still does that to me.

After, in the 80's venturing into more complex sound carpets which included synthesizers and an assortment of other electronic instruments, and then moving to Nashville to get a bit countrified, he has returned to his roots with his arrangements.. While those arrangements are essentially a matter of taste, he always kept his knack for the important through small things in life that keep it worthwhile to go on even if bad luck hits.

Over the years a number of singers have discovered and recorded his songs, so even if you should not be familiar with David - where were you then - you might have heard The Garden Song sung by Pete Seeger, You Say That The Battle Is Over by John Denver, Red Red Rose by Emmylou Harris or Summer Of My Dreams by Kathy Mattea, among others. Thanks to those folks his music has reached a wider audience but its always a special treat to hear his songs sung by him.

I was eager to listen to the stories at this "family reunion" and once again was baffled. Who else would write social commentary about the bad part of town, a loner in town and the ecological decline of the world and compare that with the feeling of being alone in Just Like Me Without You:
"wound up in a place where even a weed would not grow...
worked a dirty job for nothing, ate his supper all alone
this world is in such sad repair how can she take another blow".

Didn't Anybody Teach You opens this collection of songs. You can just imagine having arrived, being offered a rocking chair on the front porch and the uncle or an older cousin next to you asking you this and then musing "there are some battles that never can be won, sometimes you gotta just hold on and let the big horse run" but as well "there's a moment in this world for everyone and there is no limit to what can be done".

Some out-of-towner is looking for the Old Blue Ox, coming back too late 'cause his father died and after being away for so long he now doesn't recognize parts of the town anymore, though the hill he used to climb he'll recognize in a hundred years... questions as to the whereabouts of friends are answered with "moved away" or "died", still he continues "looking for his past".

Though these are not happy songs, still they are comforting - just in case you forgot. In the end with all the differences of upbringing and material wealth we're all getting older, at some point not understanding or not caring for the new ways and longing for the good old days. Even if you're not 30 yet you should listen to these songs for it is easier to accept the changes if you already know about them and someone is taking you by the hand and shows you the way.

David's love songs are something else again, with images of nature he builds the frame for the gentle poetry that is bound to melt your heart: "this love of ours is no common flower, this love is like a red red rose"; or after noticing The Wind Is On The Water and being bathed in rays of sun..."in such a perfect moment with the whole world standing still for a man to speak of love so maybe I will". He utilizes the metaphor of a dance for a loving relationship and in contrast with earlier recordings of fast dances like The Ballad Of The St. Anne's Reel or in Millie, There's A Dance In Town, it's now a Slow Dance ..."this is the way it should be, 'cause honey in a slow dance I'm holding you and you're holding me".

His understanding for "the big picture" becomes evident with the description in Strange Life:"you learn to see forever in a new day comin' in and nothin's ever easy 'cept the water and the wind and the boys upstairs will find a way to change that if they can..."

He takes a hard look at the impact of wars - old and new - and economic decline in Living On The Edge: "they took the homeboys from the fields to feed the dogs of war", "we've never gotten over that last mess we were in, and the gun boys they are gearin' up to do it all again" and "all the factories are closing up and the jobs gone overseas 'cause hungry people work for nothin' in the colonies".

Self doubt and searching for explanations probably have been part of every musician's existence and in a monologue with questions "why am I alone even when I'm in a crowd" or "why do I seek these universal truths" the answer to all is it must be the "Artist In Me".

Angel Standin' By is an explanation of why so often things turn out alright even if they appear scary or dangerous, "when you fell off that fence and a couple of times since you just caught a passing glimpse of an angel standing near you."

It is David Mallett tradition to end the recording with a "feel good song" This time it's So Far, So Good, in which he radiates contentment about the sometimes uncomfortable aspects of traveling life for after all that is the life he wants to live, "when I'm old and when I'm tired I'll stay home and stoke the fire, but right now, I'm up for hire, so far, so good, so far from home".

The support of capable musicians who understand that they should not divert the attention from the stories creates the feeling of familiarity upon first hearing that is one of David's trademarks. Acoustic instrumentation is dominant, the occasional electric guitar or lap steel tastefully adds to the rounded experience.

Any drawbacks? Just that it is over too soon. With the CD medium I really continue to have a hard time when an album plays less than close to an hour, this one clocks in at just above 38 minutes.

Hopefully, David will not stay home and stoke the fire for a long time to come, but will return long enough for another "family reunion" and will share more stories with us!

The Musicians:

David Mallett - vocals, acoustic guitar
Michael Burd - bass, electric guitar
Ed Dickhaut - drums
Susan Ramsey Crippen - violin
David Burgess - acoustic and electric guitar, lap steel, mandolin
Scott Harris - electric guitar
Brian Cattell - keyboards
Steve Grover - drums
Sonny True - mandolin

Produced by David Mallett

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2004, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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